recap flyers

It wasn’t pretty, but neither was the season that preceded it. What’s beautiful is that the Caps are back in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Washington went to Philadelphia late Monday night, needing to defeat the Flyers – who were also alive as one of four teams vying for the second wild card berth – on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center.

Behind yet another sparkling Charlie Lindgren performance in net, the Caps eked out yet another 2-1 win, another game in which they scored two or fewer goals but found a way to win. The Caps needed to win three games in four nights – against strong teams – to pull this off, and two of those three victories were achieved with just a couple of goals.

“Pretty, pretty surreal,” says Caps’ coach Spencer Carbery. “I don’t thinbk I actually conceptualized this moment of us reaching our goal to get back into the Stanley Cup playoffs. And then when it happens, you’re a little bit taken aback.

“I’m just proud, really, really proud of the group. Today was once again emblematic of what this group has done all year long. On a back-to-back, you could tell we were completely out of gas, and we were just fighting for every shift, just to take strides, just to make sure pucks got out.”

In 10 of Washington’s last 11 games of the season, it scored two or fewer goals. But the Caps finished on a 4-1-1 roll, needing every win and every point to squeeze their way into the dance as the 16th of 16 teams to make it in.

What’s even wilder is that Washington’s second goal in Tuesday’s win came into a vacant Philadelphia net; Flyers’ coach John Tortorella pulled goaltender Samuel Ersson with under four minutes remaining, and T.J. Oshie scored into the yawning net with precisely three minutes left. That’s because the Philadelphia had to win Tuesday’s game in regulation to keep its own postseason hopes alive.

Time and space were at a premium all night long in Philly on Tuesday. At night’s end, the Flyers held a 28-18 advantage in shots on net. What’s more remarkable is the number of shots that never got to the net; Washington blocked 32 shots and Philly blocked 26. The Flyers got only 28 of their 77 attempted shots on net, and the Caps managed to get 18 of 56 on net.

Washington got on the board first, taking a 1-0 lead on Alex Ovechkin’s only shot on net of the night. Oshie gained the Philly zone in transition, pulling up at the right half wall and putting the puck to the right point for Dylan McIlrath. Seeing Ovechkin going toward the net, McIlrath lofted a shot just off the mark, and it appeared to glance off Ovechkin’s hand or midsection and go in at 18:08 of the first.

The Caps nursed that lead past the midpoint of the second before Philly was able to answer with an ugly goal of its own. Rarely do you see a defenseman score net front goal on a deflection of a shot from his partner, but that’s what Philly concocted at 12:29 of the middle period. From center point, Egor Zamula put a wrist shot to the front, where veteran Erik Johnson tipped it past Lindgren to square the score at 1-1.

Minutes later, Lindgren made two of his best and most important stops of the night. Having finally broken through on the Caps, the Flyers were buzzing for more, and the ever dangerous Travis Konecny tipped a shot that Lindgren stopped, only to have the rebound go right to Konecny’s tape. Lindgren thrust his left pad out to deny the follow up with just over two minutes left in the second, ensuring that the game would remain 1-1 into the third, and shrinking Washington’s season down to a mere 20 minutes.

Philly tried to make a late push, but Lindgren stopped all 13 shots he faced in the third, and the Caps combined to block another 13.

Almost as soon as Ersson was pulled, the Caps capitalized. From deep in Washington ice, Nic Dowd – playing in his 500th career NHL game – lofted the puck into neutral ice, and Oshie skated off in pursuit of its eventual landing spot. As he collected it and carried into Philly ice along the right side, ex-Caps winger Garnet Hathaway blew a tire, and Oshie was able to ease the puck into the net, providing the margin that Lindgren and the Caps needed.

“I didn’t even know the goalie was out until it looked like Hath was trying to block a shot there, shrugs Oshie. “It felt good. It was such a good game; it was kind of unfortunate that that’s the way it had to end. But they obviously needed a regulation win, so it’s understanding. But that was a tough battle. That was a tough fight out there for us.”

Philly also needed Detroit to lose in regulation in order to keep its own hopes alive, and Tortorella’s video coaching staff was keeping him apprised of the progress of that game.

“I was pulling him, and that was the right time to pull him,” says Tortorella. “I didn’t know anything was going on with Detroit at that time, but immediately after that, our video guys told us that Detroit went to overtime.”

The Caps then made sure that Philly wasn’t getting the equalizer. John Carlson logged 29-plus minutes for the second consecutive night on Tuesday, and his final shift was a 3 minute and 20 second endurance test; partner Marty Fehervary played the final 3:17. Carlson led the team with nine blocked shots.

All that was left was for the jubilant Caps to mob Lindgren, to celebrate a delightfully improbable return to the postseason.

“It’s unbelievable,” says Lindgren, “just because the journey hasn’t been easy. There have certainly been bumps in the road, there’s been adversity. But this team has answered the bell every single time.

“It’s such a privilege to play for these guys. We’ve got guys out there competing as hard as they can, and we’ve got a great staff here. It’s been an incredible journey.”

It has been all that, and then some. And it’s not over yet.